Presented on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 at the Park Church as part of the 2019 Park Church Summer Lecture Series.
The December 1872 death of Hawaiian monarch Kamehameha spurred renewed interest among US citizens and politicians alike in the annexation of the Hawaiian islands. To satisfay the public's increased curiosity about Hawai'i in January 1873 the New York Daily Tribune sought testimony in the form of two letters from a well-known expert on the islands: Mark Twain. Twain had gained nationwide fame based on his correspondence from Hawai'i to the Sacramento Union in 1866 and especially from his popular comic lecture, often titled, "Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands," which he delivered across the US and abroad between 1866-1873. In my talk I will examine how Twain's humorous writings and lectures about Hawai'i led American editors and readers to view him as a serious authority on the islands. I will also perform contextualized readings of reprinted excerpts of his letters to the Tribune in other newspapers and magazine and consider what these editorial choices reveal about the American reading public's views of Twain and of Hawai'i in the early 1870's.
Todd Nathan Thompson is Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. he is also Treasurer-Secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Todd is author of iThe National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). His work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ, Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Teaching American Literature, and elsewhere. He currently is at work on a book project entitled Savage Laughter: Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the Pacific, 1840-1880.